Pilot dies after sport aircraft crashed during Reno National Championship Air Races

RENO, Nev. (KGO) -- A skilled Bay Area pilot died in a crash during the Reno Air Races. This is the second deadly crash there in just three years. Now, we are learning more about the man who flew everything from fighter jets to single-engine stunt planes.

Lee Behel, 64, died in a fatal accident during a qualifying heat of the national championship air races Monday afternoon. The cause of the accident is currently under investigation by the FAA and the NTSB.

Monday evening, ABC7 News spoke to Lee's sister in Los Gatos. Lee lived in Saratoga where neighbors were just learning of his death.

ABC7 reporter Alan Wang actually had the pleasure of meeting him at gathering a few years ago. They talked a lot about air racing and Wang says he came off as a very confident guy who was very passionate about what he did.

It happened in an area of the race course called High G Ridge. Lee was killed after his sport class plane appeared to experience catastrophic mechanical failure.

"It was a single-plane incident. We did cancel racing and qualifying for the rest of the day. Today was our first day of qualifying, we only had one more heat after that. The races will resume tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. as scheduled," Mike Draper, from the National Championship Air Races, said.

Lee was a former champion who founded the sport class division. He was a retired Lt. Colonel in the Nevada Air National Guard and flew F-4 Phantoms. His sister spoke to us by phone.

Carey Behel said, "There are a lot of other things that even a good pilot can't foresee." She says her brother's passion began in high school when he built a plane the garage. "He was a natural pilot. He had a great deal of quiet confidence. I never had any concerns or fear when I flew with him."

Lee owned Steven's Creek Porshe/Audi in Santa Clara which he sold two years ago. He was the 19th pilot to die in the 51-year history of the air races.
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